38. Simon Coleman and John Eade, eds., Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion

by breavman99

reframing pilgrimage

When I finished Ian Reader’s short introduction to pilgrimage as a field of inquiry, I decided to dive headfirst into the literature on the subject. My first stop: this 2004 anthology on mobility and pilgrimage, edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade. Coincidentally, as I was reading the essays collected by Coleman and Eade, my friend Matthew Anderson, an expert on pilgrimage, as a scholar and a practitioner, suggested Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion as one possible starting point, which reaffirmed my decision to crack open this book.

The most useful part of this anthology, for me, is the editors’ introduction, “Reframing Pilgrimage,” which begins with a discussion of Victor and Edith Turner’s 1978 book Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, which occupies an outsized place in the literature about pilgrimage—and which I have yet to read. According to Coleman and Eade, the Turners consider movement in pilgrimage—the topic of Reframing Pilgrimage—as an “embodiment of populist, spontaneously articulated ‘anti-structure,’” although the Turners’ argument is “largely place-centred”—that is, centred on the sacred place that is the pilgrims’ destination (2). (How interesting to see the term “populist” used approvingly.) The essays Coleman and Eade have assembled pick up on that interest in movement in pilgrimage, focusing on “various forms of motion—embodied, imagined, metaphorical—as constitutive elements of many pilgrimages” (3). Those essays, they continue, “examine both movement to and movement at sites (and sometimes from sites as well), and in certain cases trace the ways in which mobile performances can help to construct—however temporarily—apparently sacredly charged places” (3). This emphasis on movement is “intended to move the study of pilgrimage away from certain aspects of conventional anthropological discourse on the subject” in an attempt “to widen the theoretical location of studies of ‘sacred travel’” (3).

Much of this introduction wrestles with the significance of the Turners’ work on this subject. For example, Coleman and Eade note the resonance of the “Turnerian notion of pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon, which is productive of social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (3). I’m sure the Turners explain what they mean by “liminoid” in their book on pilgrimage, but not having read it (yet), I found myself wondering what the distinction between this new (for me) word, “liminoid,” and the word “liminal” might be. According to an essay by Victor Turner that I stumbled across online, “liminoid” and “liminal” mean very different things, although they both derive from the same Latin root, which means “threshold.” “Optation pervades the liminoid phenomenon, obligation the liminal,” Turner writes. “One is all play and choice, an entertainment, the other is a matter of deep seriousness, even dread, it is demanding, compulsory” (74). Turner is discussing different forms of rites of passage here (building on the notion of the threshold, a movement from one place to another), and in some cultures those rites of passage are obligatory, or liminal, while in others they are optional, or liminoid. Turner continues:

Liminal phenomena tend to predominate in tribal and early agrarian societies possessing what Durkheim has called “mechanical solidarity,” and dominated by what Henry Maine has called “status.” Liminoid phenomena flourish in societies with “organic solidarity,” bonded reciprocally by “contractual” relations, and generated by and following the industrial revolution. (84)

In addition,

Liminal phenomena tend to be collective, concerned with calendrical, biological, social-structural rhythms or with crises in social processes whether these result from internal adjustments or external adaptations or remedial measures. Thus they appear at what may be called “natural breaks,” natural disjunctions in the flow of natural and social processes. They are thus enforced by sociocultural “necessity,” but they contain in nuce “freedom” and the potentiality for the formation of new ideas, symbols, models, beliefs. Liminoid phenomena may be collective (and when they are so are often directly derived from liminal antecedents), but are more characteristically individual products, though they often have collective or “mass” effects. They are not cyclical, but continuously generated, though in the times and places apart from work settings assigned to “leisure” activities. (85)

Turner’s third point about the distinction between “liminal” and “liminoid” phenomena suggests that the latter is marginal and experimental:

Liminal phenomena are centrally integrated into the total social process, forming with all its other aspects a complete whole, and representing its necessary negativity and subjunctivity. Liminoid phenomena develop apart from the central economic and political processes, along the margins, in the interfaces and interstices of central and servicing institutions—they are plural, fragmentary, and experimental in character. (85)

Unlike “liminal” phenomena,

Liminoid phenomena tend to be more idiosyncratic or quirky, to be generated by specific named individuals and in particular groups—”schools,” circles, and coteries. They have to compete with one another for general recognition and are thought of at first as ludic offerings placed for sale on the “free” market—this is at least true of liminoid phenomena in nascent capitalistic and democratic-liberal societies. Their symbols are closer to the personal-psychological than to the “objective-social” typological pole. (85-86)

Finally, liminoid phenomena can participate in social critique; they can expose “the injustices, inefficiencies, and immoralities of the mainstream economic and political structures and organizations” (86). So, if pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon, it would be optional or voluntary; focused on the individual at least as much on the collective; marginal, fragmentary, experimental, and plural; and playful or “ludic” to some degree, rather than being obligatory, collective, central, and serious. I’m not sure, though that leads to “social encounters without hierarchical constraints” (Coleman and Eade 3), or what the relationship between pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon and Turner’s notion of communitas might be. Clearly I’m going to have to read the Turners’ book about pilgrimage, which I’ve ordered, since it’s for some reason not held by this university’s library.

I didn’t intend to get carried off on such a tangent, but that’s sometimes what happens when one is reading about something that requires an understanding of specific and even idiosyncratic terminology. In any case, the point Coleman and Eade is making, I think, is that the Turners’ suggestion that pilgrimage is a liminoid phenomenon is useful and productive, while at the same time, their paradigm risks “taking studies of pilgrimage down a theoretical cul-de-sac, both in its all-encompassing character and in its implication that such travel could somehow (or at least should ideally) be divorced from more everyday social, political and cultural processes” (3). The dialectic the Turners construct “between structure and process,” Coleman and Eade continue, “has provided an inflexible analytical tool, according to which the relationship between pairs of dichotomized variables is seen as a zero sum—the more of one, the less of the other” (3-4). Coleman and Eade wonder “whether pilgrimage needs by definition to be seen as ‘exceptional,’ and to ask whether a different approach can help the topic emerge from a theoretical ghetto that is still contained largely within the anthropology of religion” (4). In particular, Coleman and Eade want to think about the importance of mobility, of movement, in pilgrimage. They note that James Clifford and Zygmunt Bauman argue that the figure of the pilgrim is “emblematic of aspects of everyday life,” and that “the era of unconditional superiority of sedentarism over nomadism and the domination of the settled over the mobile is grinding to a halt” (5). Of course, that notion of the pilgrim is a metaphorical one, and as we see in contemporary politics, the valorization of rootlessness and nomadism provokes a powerful (and populist) response in favour of fixed identities (national, ethnic, and/or religious). To be fair, Coleman and Eade do not claim that pilgrimage “can be brandished as an all-purpose metaphor for ‘our times’” (6); rather, they are “more interested in the fact that certain forms of travel, labeled pilgrimages (or the rough equivalent) by their participants, appear to be flourishing in many parts of the world,” and that such journeys “prompt further investigation into the specific cultural, social and economic dimensions of these examples of contemporary travel” (6). Nevertheless, Coleman and Eade do find two aspects of Clifford’s and Bauman’s thinking useful. First, “the assumption that both mobility and change are chronic—or at least not unusual—conditions of many people’s lives goes some way towards challenging dichotomies (evident in Image and Pilgrimage) between structure and process” (7). Second, “when mobility can be regarded as mundane, pilgrimage—as either metaphor or institution—is less likely to be seen as rigidly exceptional or set apart from society” (7). In fact, “[s]ocially informed examination of the history of travel has also tended to emphasize the need to understand pilgrimage in the context of other, roughly parallel activities, and this has sometimes blurred the boundaries between genres of mobility” (9). The distinction between pilgrimage and tourism, for instance, is one of those boundaries that becomes blurry when one ceases to view pilgrimage as something set apart from other genres of travel.

Coleman and Eade also discuss Nancy Louise Frey’s ethnographic account of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, another book I need to read. They note that in Frey’s account, distinctions between religious and non-religious travellers (or religious and non-religious forms of pilgrimage?) are not significant, and that reaching a specific sacred place (such as the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela) is often less important than the mode of journeying (for most pilgrims on the Camino, that means walking). Walking, according to Frey, is a form of self-sacrifice and a way to engage with the past, as well as a way of subverting or transcending “the rushing, mechanized world of modernity and postmodernity” (11). Frey’s arrival in Santiago de Compostela is anticlimactic, and she barely touches on the shrine in her book (11). According to Coleman and Eade, “the intense experience of the journey almost blocks out interest in the destination, and renders overtly analytical (and necessarily distancing) techniques of writing problematic” (12). 

Another account of pilgrimage which focuses on movement rather than destination is Michael J. Sallnow’s Pilgrims of the Andes, “a detailed account of a group pilgrimage that is also a kinesthetic mapping of space” in which the style of movement—the pilgrims dance, rather than walk—“has symbolic significance” (12). Sallnow’s work, Coleman and Eade contend, “shows how pilgrimage can indeed provide a release form the everyday, but is also a recurring event, building up local memories and putting down strong roots in local networks of cooperation and competition. In this context,” they continue, “pilgrimage emerges as deeply embedded in peasant life, rather than as an isolated social phenomenon” (13). Many medieval pilgrimages in England were similarly part of everyday life; they often did not take pilgrims more than a few days from home, and were more routine and regular activities than the lengthy, distant, and one-off pilgrimages the Turners describe (13).

Literal movement need not be a part of pilgrimage at all, according to Coleman and Eade, referring to the work of Alan Morinis. For example, some Hindu mystics and Sufis “have developed a concept of the inner pilgrimage by which the person visits sacred spaces within the microcosm of the mind and body” (14). Therefore, “to gain an understanding of any given journey we might well need to consult a number of possible semantic fields, and not merely . . . those associated with movement” (14). Moreover, according to Morinis, the symbolic meaning of movement in pilgrimage “may be informed by and juxtaposed with cultural representations of its opposite, stasis, and so for Morinis a good part of the meaning of sacred journeys is uncovered in culturally sensitive analysis of this central opposition” (14). Therefore, Coleman and Eade write, returning to the Turners, it is possible to view the 

opposition of structure to anti-structure/process as consisting of a contrast between fixity and fluidity that is powerful both symbolically and in rhetorical terms, even if it fails to take into account the much more complex and mutually enmeshed relations between continuity and transformation, home and homelessness, so-called “everyday life” and sacred travel. (15)

There is a larger significance to this discussion, one I’ve already touched on: studies of globalization suggest that there is a “precarious balance . . . between ‘global flows’ and ‘cultural closure,’” and that being aware of their involvement in open-ended global flows may trigger, for some of us, a search for fixed points of orientation and efforts to affirm old boundaries and construct new ones (15). In other words, “Build that wall!” Isn’t this what motivates Trump and his base of supporters? It might motivate some pilgrims as well: “many pilgrim sites, rather than being contexts for the cultivation of anti-structure, can provide arenas for the rhetorical, ideologically charged assertion of apparent continuity, even fixity, in religious and wider social identities” (15). In other words, globalization can “stimulate the rediscovery of different kinds of particularism and localism,” and the construction of such ideologies within pilgrimage discourses may act in opposition to those who, like Marc Augé, celebrate the “‘non-places of super-modernity” or other examples of postmodern rootlessness (15).

“These perspectives on movement clearly do not yet add up to a discrete analytical debate,” Coleman and Eade write, “in contrast to the ways in which communitas and contestation have often been explicitly juxtaposed in pilgrimage studies” (16). Instead, they provide a number of distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive understandings of movement in pilgrimage. One is the notion of movement as performative action: “the sense that movement can effect (not always consciously) certain social and cultural transformations” (16). Here Coleman and Eade refer to de Certeau’s claim that walking can be constitutive of social space the way that speech acts constitute language. “Performative,” here, doesn’t mean performance; rather, “performative” is being used in the sense of a performative utterance, a speech act that makes something happen, like “I now declare you husband and wife” or the Biblical “Let there be light!” Another is movement as embodied action, or the way that pilgrimage can provide “the catalyst for certain kinds of bodily experiences” (16). A third is movement as part of a semantic field: “the need to contextualize the meaning of ‘pilgrimage’ within local cultural understandings of mobility” or “such terms as place, space and landscape,” or to recognize that “a given style of mobility may take on particularly charged meaning as a marker of difference (just as the label ‘pilgrim’ may be adopted in rhetorical contradistinction to that of ‘tourist’),” so that “the movement involved in pilgrimage may invoke, play on, appropriate, domesticate, sometimes even negate another form of journeying, such as tourism or migration” (16). “The broader point,” Coleman and Eade suggest,” is “that we must avoid essentializing movement as a category” (!6). Finally, movement can be understood as a metaphor: “the ways in which pilgrimage-related discourses may evoke movement rather than require its physical instanciation,” including the idea that pilgrimage is a metaphor for the journey of the Christian soul (17). 

“Is there any connecting thread that might link these dimensions of mobility?” Coleman and Eade ask. “One is that we see both informants and ethnographers coming to regard movement as a marked activity: it becomes an object of attention and reflexivity, and is transformed from a largely taken for granted physiological act into a cultural performance,” they write. “Much of this book is precisely concerned with such processes of translation, within a framework that seeks to understand actors’ own models of pilgrimage or sacralized travel but does not assume that such marked travel is, by definition, divorced from other aspects of social, cultural or indeed religious life” (17). “If pilgrimage can be seen as involving the institutionalization (or even domestication) of mobility in physical, metaphorical and/or ideological terms,” they continue,

such a focus can be located on various levels. Within the macro-context of the political economy of travel and the globalization of (religious) cultures, dynamic interplays between transnational, national and regional processes may be evident. Theorizing around themes of mobility and movement can also be located within—and integrated with—micro-level examinations of the embodied motion inherent within pilgrimage practices, combined with analyses of the sacred geographies and architectures that provide the material and symbolic background to such motion. In such cases, the focus on pilgrimage as ritual and performance is to the fore, with it involving sometimes unpredictable encounters between liturgical forms, personal imagination and memory translated into acts of the body. (17)

The essays they have collected view the phenomenon of pilgrimage from the perspective of movement, although movement is not the only way to think about pilgrimage: “there are many paths for us to trace,” they write (18). The essays in the anthology explore diverse cultural and religious contexts, although “each case study involves diverse processes of sacralization of movement, persons and/or places” (18). In addition, the essays they have brought together explore “movement within movement”—“particular styles of episodes of motion within the broader framework of a journey”—to show “how pilgrimage can provide opportunities to reflect upon, re-embody, sometimes even retrospectively transform, past journeys. We therefore examine journeys about journeys, and which in the process often turn history into both myth and ritual” (18).

For me, the case studies Coleman and Eade are somewhat less useful than their introduction, although they do suggest the range of activity that can be captured by the term “pilgrimage” and their authors suggest additional readings that would broaden my understanding of pilgrimage. In “‘Being There’: British Mormons and the History Trail,” Hildi Mitchell discusses the importance of embodied knowledge, which is “central to the way in which Mormonism works” (26). That embodied knowledge is produced by visiting places associated with Mormon history, including museums, as a way that “Mormons are able to actively participate in their theology and cosmology” (26). Her essay is divided into three sections. The first explores Mormon history and its central importance to Mormon theology. The second considers how this relationship “echoes the interplay between persons, place and both text and object in wider Mormonism, most especially in Mormon temples and in the Mormon practice of testimony bearing” (26). The third examines “how this Mormon engagement with temples and testimonies works to shape their interaction with historical sites, thus illuminating the extent to which pilgrimage activities are different or similar to everyday religious action” (26). Her purpose, she writes, is “to show how embodied memory acts as the interface between individual experiences and wider religious structures, which perhaps helps to integrate the apparent opposition of the individual/structure dichotomy” (27). For example, she suggests that emotion should be considered “as an embodied and collective phenomenon” (32) as a way of explaining collective religious experiences (32-33). She also uses Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to think about this embodied knowledge (36)—yet another sign that I need to read his Outline of a Theory of Practice. Mitchell concludes that British and American Mormons experience historical objects and sites “not merely as secular travel, but as faithbuilding explorations of sacred places and feelings,” and that “embodied memories are important in giving rise to religious feelings,” as well as an entry point to the history of their faith (43).

In “From England’s Nazareth to Sweden’s Jerusalem: Movement, (Virtual) Landscapes and Pilgrimage,” Simon Coleman examines two separate pilgrimage events: the annual Anglo- and Roman-Catholic pilgrimage to Walsingham in the UK, and Swedish evangelicals of the Word of Life church who travel regularly to the Holy Land. His aim is to demonstrate how these two groups “reveal significantly different attitudes towards ritual, time and materiality,” and “to show how they are united in their focus on movement itself as a marked activity, as a cultural performance that incorporates performative action” (46). These two very different constituencies can “be seen as providing significantly divergent ways of negotiating the relationship between macro-processes associated with the political economy of travel and micro-level forms of actual physical mobility” (46). Like Mitchell, Coleman refers to habitus in order “to show how rigid distinctions between supposedly sacred and supposedly secular actions cannot be sustained once one sees how forms of worship become embodied dispositions that cannot be shut off once the believer leaves a service” (46-47). He also wants to explore “how ‘non-pilgrimage’ activities and assumptions leach into those making up sacralized travel, not as forms of ‘impurity’ but as constitutive aspects of the travel itself” (47). It’s easy to see the connection between his case study and the book’s introduction: Coleman’s interest is in contextualizing pilgrimage activities, rather than in seeing them as exceptional or special. 

Unlike the pilgrims who travel to Walsingham, the Swedish evangelicals are developing “a charismatic theory of idealized global action,” with people travelling overseas for mission work, and with guest speakers arriving from elsewhere (53). “In travelling to all continents,” Coleman suggests, the Word of Faith believers “are delineating a landscape of evangelical agency, where faith is shown to transcend barriers of culture, territory and nationhood” (53). One distinction between the pilgrimages he is discussing, then, is the distinction between the global and the local that he and Eade made in the book’s introduction. After all, one of the important activities at Walsingham is walking—through the town and between various important religious sites (56-57). Yet both groups of pilgrims are seeking legitimacy for their faith through travel—the Walsingham pilgrims by invoking history (65), and the Word of Life pilgrims “through a global landscape of missionization oriented theologically and imaginatively, temporally and spatially, towards Jerusalem” (63). “If Catholics seek a kind of ‘recurrence’ of history,” he suggests, “charismatics look more to a metaphorical and literal ‘progression’ towards a future that leads ultimately to the Last Days” (65). At the same time, both groups use pilgrimage “as a form of witness, a defence of identity in relation to religious and secular alternatives” (65). There are, he concludes, “many ways to move, just as there are many ways to be modern” (66).

For me, the most valuable part of Coleman’s essay is his brief discussion of walking and slowness, particularly in relation to pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela: 

The bodily and temporal modes involved in slow, effortful travel appear to subvert the rushing, mechanized world of the present, allowing space a kind of victory over time and helping to produce a sense of contact with the past. If the contemporary world appears to be about the compression of time and space, pilgrims to Compostela are entering a kind of sacred decompression chamber. (66)

Slowness and effortfulness (which my word-processing software tells me isn’t a word) are essential aspects of walking as a form of travel, and along with a sense of contact with the past, I would argue that walking may also provide a sense of contact with the land through which one is walking.

In “‘Heartland of America’: Memory, Motion and the (Re)construction of History on a Motorcycle Pilgrimage,” Jill Dubisch explores the Run for the Wall, a cross-country motorcycle rally from California to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, as a pilgrimage of connection (107). Although the Run for the Wall is arguably a secular pilgrimage, Dubisch argues that it has a “sacred destination” and “combines the individual search for healing and identity with the creation of a collective narrative” (107). Through the construction of that narrative, the Run for the Wall becomes “a ritual performance that constructs a collective view of the past as well as contributing to the construction of a common identity” (107). However, 

this narrative and this collective memory are not developed in the context of the pilgrimage alone. Although the riders are the ones who are making the journey, the ones who are moving across the ‘heartland,’ this heartland itself is created by the many individuals and groups along the way who host the Run, who honour the veterans, and who utter the words that have become part of the ritual of the Run: “Welcome home, brother.” (107-08)

A repeated pilgrimage event, the Run represents issues—PTSD and healing, and POW/MIA accounting (109)—as well as provides an opportunity for a search for belonging or acceptance that Vietnam veterans feel was denied them when they returned from the war (109-10).

Dubisch provides her definition of pilgrimage early in her essay:

Pilgrimage usually involves the conjunction of a moving body or bodies of individuals with a specific geographic location, or locations, which will have their own cast of characters involved in various ways in the pilgrimage. In addition, a specific pilgrimage is an ephemeral production (although much the same could be said for any social activity) and certain pilgrimages . . . may take place only once a year, or in some cases even less frequently. (111)

Unlike Coleman and Eade, Dubisch acknowledges that pilgrimage may be one of the “extraordinary and exceptional events that may radically shape individual and collective lives” (112). The Run, she recounts, generates experiences of “liminality, communitas, the power of ritual, suffering and transformation,” and even though she is not a Vietnam veteran, she was able to experience these concepts “in a vivid emotional, even physical, way,” providing her with “an understanding of pilgrimage I am not certain I would otherwise have had” (113).

Participants in the Run for the Wall identify themselves as pilgrims, and that identification is collective rather than idiosyncratic: “the run is not mere travel, but a journey with a mission, contrasting with trips taken for novelty and pleasure” (113). That sense of mission, of being serious travellers and not just tourists or sightseers, is what makes the Run a pilgrimage (114). This description, however, does not suggest “that seriousness is always a defining characteristic of pilgrimage, nor that there is no time for fun or socializing during the course of the Run. Rather, what is important here is the participants’ own view of what distinguishes their journey from other mundane trips, and particularly from purely recreational motorcycle rides” (114). In addition, the Run is transformative: it transforms meaning, history, and the emotional states of those who participate (114). It also creates a sense of communitas through shared experiences and common goals (116). Through her participation in the Run for the Wall, Dubisch concludes, 

It also became clearer to me . . . that pilgrimage can be many, even contradictory things at once: a political movement and a personal journey of healing, a celebration of the warrior and a memorial to the tragedy of war, an experience of liminality by the marginal and a mode of integration and the overcoming of marginality, a place of communitas but also riven with divisions and conflict, a journey and a coming home. (128)

That description resonates with my own pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago, as well as on other walking journeys that I have characterized as pilgrimages. That complexity is, I think, part of what makes pilgrimages so powerful, and which leads people to want to repeat the experience.

In “Coming Home to the Motherland: Pilgrimage Tourism in Ghana,” Katharina Schramm notes that there is a struggle over the meaning of homecoming and pilgrimage versus tourism, particularly for African Americans seeking their roots in Africa. “The recent literature on pilgrimage has shown that the framing of pilgrimage within the discourse and practice of the tourism industry is far from unusual,” she writes. “Rigid distinctions between (serious) pilgrims—always on a journey to a sacred site—and (playful) tourists—always on a trip to places of secular pleasure, has become blurred” (134). Strict divisions between sacred and secular are therefore called into question (134). Pilgrimage and tourism are also “brought together within wider theories of travel and identity” (134-35), such as Zygmunt Bauman’s suggestion that pilgrims and tourists are “opposing metaphors, each standing for a distinct conception of identity”: pilgrims as metaphors for the modern subject, “constantly preoccupied with the building and sustenance of an identity through which he can give meaning to the confusing world around him,” and tourists (like strollers, vagabonds, and players) as metaphors for the postmodern subject, for whom “fixation needs to be avoided and identities must be prevented from ‘sticking’” (135). Still, Schramm continues, a longing for a stable identity is not outmoded, even if, as a goal, such stability cannot be reached: “as I would like to demonstrate in my discussion of homecoming,” she writes, “the promise of fulfilment and arrival lingers in the notion of return to Africa—even though such expectations may be unfulfilled and the journey towards an ‘African identity’ may have to continue” (136).

Neither tourist nor pilgrim are fixed or one-dimensional identities, Schramm argues: “Both categories are open to transformation and inclined to internal diversification and hierarchy” (136). She refers to Erik Cohen’s writing on the phenomenology of tourist experiences, which may work as a way to grasp the continuum of tourism and its motivations. Cohen divides travel into five types: recreational, diversionary, experiential, experimental, and existential. “For my discussion of homecoming,” Schramm writes, “the categories of experiential and existential tourism are the most significant” (136). Experiential tourism suggests a quest for authentic experiences and meaning, whereas existential tourism suggests the traveller is engaged spiritually, although that engagement may be marginal to his or her society and culture (136). The notion of centre is important here: “the pilgrim is seeking to reach the centre of his own world, no matter how far away it might be in place,” and the “archaic pilgrimage,” where distance isn’t spatial but temporal, is a special case: “This archaic centre is associated with a pristine existence and is mythically constructed as a paradise forever lost—never to be fully restored, yet always longed for” (137). 

According to Schramm, African Americans who travel to Ghana in a search for their roots have many different motives and aspirations, and therefore their activities cannot be grouped together in a single category (137). This heterogeneity “is mirrored in varying understandings of the meaning of homecoming as well as the perceptions of the actual process,” she continues (138). As a result, “the ambivalent meaning of pilgrimage tourism becomes particularly clear” (139). This complexity is also revealed by Paul Basu in “Route Metaphors of ‘Roots-Tourism’ in the Scottish Highland Diaspora,” a discussion of genealogical tourism in Scotland. Participants in such tourism tend to refer to their journeys as pilgrimages, homecomings, or quests (151). Basu’s objective is “to explore the dominant ‘root metaphors’—which are, inevitably, also ‘route’ metaphors—through which roots-tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Islands typically characterize and understand their journeys” (152). He examines the denotative and connotative qualities of these metaphors—pilgrimage, homecoming, and quest—which, he contends, 

together provide a more appropriate ‘grammar’ (including a repertoire of actions and attitudes) for roots-tourism than tourism itself is able to offer: a grammar, furthermore, which has the potential to bear fruit and empower these journeys with the capacity to effect personal transformations, rendering them quite literally ‘life-changing’ experiences for many participants. (153-54)

Such metaphors, however, can obfuscate as well as illuminate, so it’s important to be aware of “the potentially misleading persuasiveness of metaphors” (156). 

Basu suggests that “as roots-tourists leave behind the ‘ordinary’ world of their diasporic homes and enter the ‘non-ordinary sphere’ of the ancestral homeland,”

they do appear to enter a ‘liminal’ zone where they often report supernatural occurrences and altered states of mind (feeling ancestral presences, having premonitory dreams, etc.). Such other-worldly experiences add to the transformative potential of these rites of passage, and roots-tourists may return to their ordinary homes significantly changed, sometimes experiencing difficulties re-adjusting to domestic routines and commitments or else determined to resolve outstanding problems. (168)

I find myself confused, again, between the related concepts of “liminoid” and “liminal,” particularly since the latter term is used by Dubisch and Basu to describe pilgrimage experiences, while Coleman and Eade use the former. Clearly, despite my brief reading of Turner, I have more work to do in order to understand the distinction between these terms.

For Basu, roots-tourism journeys are “are once homecoming, quest and pilgrimage,” and “qualities of these differently symbolic ‘other’ genres of travel and their respective destinations are clearly ‘active together’ in engendering meaning and transformative potential” (173). As pilgrimage, these journeys are simultaneously literal, or “terrestrial,” and metaphorical (173). As homecomings, they are journeys “to the source, to the cradle of belonging” (173). And yet, as quests, their destinations remain “essentially elusive and incommunicable” (173). “By implicitly and explicitly drawing on the route metaphors of homecoming, quest and pilgrimage to provide a composite grammar for roots-tourism,” Basu concludes, “roots-tourists are also provided with a repertoire of appropriate actions and attitudes for their journeys . . . and their vague, incommunicable longing is thus given form” (173-74).

One can’t expect that every essay in an anthology will speak to one’s interests. Two of the essays collected here are primarily useful to me for their citations of other writers on pilgrimage or travel. For instance, Eva Evers Rosander, in “Going and Not Going to Porokhane: Mourid Women and Pilgrimage in Senegal and Spain,” refers to John Urry’s typology of movement—physical, imaginative and virtual, and corporeal (70), which might be helpful in my research. Similarly, Bente Nikolaisen, in “Embedded Motion: Sacred Travel Among Mevlevi Dervishes,” discusses the introduction to the second edition of John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow’s Contesting the Sacred, which suggests that no universal definition of pilgrimage is likely to be useful (93). 

In any case, thinking seriously about pilgrimage is useful for me, because it helps me distinguish my artistic walking practice from the very different practice of pilgrimage. These two types of activity are related, but they are different, and being able to understand pilgrimage literally, rather than metaphorically, is something I very much need to be able to do. At this point, I am thinking that my walking practice appropriates the form of pilgrimage while focusing on a very different style of content—although as I continue to read and think about this topic, I will no doubt change or refine that notion. In any case, being able to discuss pilgrimage coherently will be essential preparation for my conference paper on the subject, which I will be writing over the next few weeks. Until then, I have time to continue my research into this subject.

Works Cited

Coleman, Simon, and John Eade. Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. Routledge, 2004.

Turner, Victor. “Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology.” Rice University Studies, vol. 60, no. 3, 1974, pp. 53-92. https://hdl.handle.net/1911/63159.